Bloomington, Ind. – Eric Gordon stopped and pondered the question as he's probably done many times before.
As the Hoosiers' freshman guard was wrapping up his account of his 29-point effort and his team's 12-point win over Northwestern Sunday, Gordon was asked to look ahead four days to his first – and likely last – trip to Champaign, Ill., for a game against the Illini.
While the Hoosiers' leading scorer didn't reveal anything overly profound with his response, his moment of reflection made it clear Gordon has given plenty of thought to this day ever since he de-committed from the Illini and signed with the Hoosiers.
"I don't know," said Gordon, after seemingly running various scenarios through his head. "We just have to go over there and win. That's the number one thing."
Indiana needs a win to keep pace with Wisconsin and Purdue, both of whom remain tied atop the Big Ten standings with 8-1 marks and are a ½ game ahead of the Hoosiers. While Indiana has lost the last six times they've made the 3-hour trip to Illinois' Assembly Hall, this Illinois team doesn't resemble those recent squads. Coach Bruce Weber's team is just 10-13 overall and 2-8 in Big Ten and has lost five games on its home floor.
Of course, many of those in Illini circles believe Gordon is to blame for all that ails them. After all, the Illini's most glaring weakness is the absence of a proven perimeter scorer, a need that Gordon was expected to fill before he opted out of his pledge. With that in mind, the always raucous Illinois fan base figures to direct a season's worth of frustration at Gordon the moment he enters the city limits.
Gordon doesn't know exactly how venomous the attacks will be, but he knows they're coming.
So does IU Coach Kelvin Sampson, who basically laughed off the notion that Gordon would be affected by playing Illinois when the two teams met Jan. 13. Considering the hoopla that surrounded his recruitment it only made sense that it would have an impact, but Sampson instead said that Gordon "doesn't think like you think," when asked about the subject.
The second-year IU coach has since admitted that no matter how cool and calm Gordon might appear on the outside, he's still an 18-year-old kid who can't help but be impacted by these head-to-head match-ups.
"The last time when I got asked (about Gordon playing Illinois) I probably gave a presumptuous answer saying he probably wouldn't (be affected)," Sampson said. "He's a human being. I'm sure that's something that will be on his mind."
It figures to be a mixture of trepidation and anticipation. Gordon likely regrets the situation he put Weber and the Illini in, but at the same time would relish having one of his best games in the most hostile of environments to silence an Illini fan base that's made him out to be public enemy number one.
The atmosphere figures to be electric and hostile, particularly during pre-game warm-ups and introductions. Sampson's hope is that the game's start will settle Gordon, and Indiana's play will quiet the Illini crowd.
"Once he takes the court and plays the game, I'm sure he'll be fine," Sampson said.